New book for tree lovers is rooted in memory

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Wayne State University Press.

Capital News Service

LANSING – Trees take root in the life of Maureen Dunphy, a writing coach from Royal Oak.

“Divining, A Memoir in Trees” (Wayne State University Press, $19.99) provides a new way to look at trees through memories. Dunphy wrote 16 essays connected with trees for the collection.

“I wrote it like nobody was ever going to read it,” said Dunphy, 69. “That was really the only way you can write.”

She finds relief from anxiety in trees and nature walks.

“Being outside and walking, even on the sidewalk, going hiking, really changes how I feel physically,” Dunphy said, “because anxiety is very physical. It’s not just up here, right? It’s a physical sensation.”

Climbing a tree to be alone in a tree house helped ease her anxiety as an elementary school student.

She remembers well “that experience of me making the effort to climb up into the tree, being in the tree alone, breathing the air, not having anything there but my thoughts and everything looking different below me.” 

Would she climb a tree now?

“I absolutely would,” she said. “It’s like a good yoga class. I felt I would come down from that tree, and I would feel different.”

Dunphy said she hopes her book inspires people to think more about trees, save them and plant more.

The idea for the book came from a little notebook in which Dunphy writes what occupies her mind. At some point, it was full of questions about trees, especially beeches.

Some of the essays are about loss. There was a beech grove in the neighboring area when Dunphy and her husband, Craig Daly, moved to Royal Oak.

The owner of the grove wanted to build more houses and cut down a big part of the grove while she was away, she said.

“When I returned home, it was many, many days before I could walk or drive by the devastation left in place of the beautiful trees,” Dunphy wrote in the book.

The introduction is dedicated to Dunphy’s father who died in 2021 at the age of 93. Dunphy planted an evergreen in his memory.

She chose fir because it reminds her of her father’s stories about Christmas, and it smells like oranges.

“My dad has loved Christmas since he was a boy,” she said.

Her father was born in 1928 and lived in Detroit. Every Christmas, his family put little candles on the Christmas tree and oranges in their stockings.

At that time, “getting an orange in the winter was very unusual,” Dunphy said.

Her father always told the story about his childhood Christmases, and Dunphy always got a tangerine in the toe of her stockings.

Her favorite trees are eastern cottonwood, white oak, beech and sycamore.

She recommends several locations in Michigan to reconnect with nature and trees. 

She suggests visiting the Pinckney area to view “a typical Michigan trio” – maple, oak and beech – and Hartwick Pines State Park in Grayling to see old growth trees.

Toumey Woods, a U.S. national natural landmark, and the W.J. Beal Botanical Garden are also places of exploration on the campus of Michigan State University, she said.

Vladislava Sukhanovskaya reports for Great Lakes Echo.

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